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Professionalization in Action: Accountants' Attempt at Building a Network of Support for the Webstrust E-Commerce Seal of Assurance

Gendron, Yves and Barrett, Michael Ian, "Professionalization in Action: Accountants' Attempt at Building a Network of Support for the Webstrust E-Commerce Seal of Assurance" (February 1, 2002). Available at SSRN:

Abstract:

    In 1997, the North American accounting Institutes launched the WebTrust seal of assurance, aimed at providing comfort to consumers who buy online. This paper uses actor-network theory to better understand how and why the construction of the need for WebTrust was difficult. Specifically, we examine how WebTrust was developed and promoted through the use of rhetorical devices such as market research data that emphasized consumer concerns of electronic transactions and consumer interest in Web assurance.

    Our analysis also provides insights into the difficulties that WebTrust proponents had in building a network of support for the seal in the marketplace. For example, managers of online organizations objected to WebTrust on the grounds that customers are neither aware of the seal nor interested in actively learning of it. They also objected because, in their view, consumer fears are not justified given that e-commerce information technology (which relies on encryption) virtually eliminates the risk of unsecured transmission of data. Furthermore, accountants' support of the Institutes' initiative was decreasing, and a significant number of them tended to be quite critical of the way in which WebTrust was implemented. These criticisms suggest that the credibility of the Institutes in the eyes of their members in sustaining concerted competitive efforts in the marketplace is far from being established.

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